What does it mean to be a space law intern? What does space law even mean? Before beginning our summer internship, we had very little exposure to this exciting world. Now that we’ve gained a bit of experience, we’d like to share what a typical week looks like.
- University of Virginia School of Law (Expected 2020)
- University of Florida, M.S. in Management (2016), B.A. in Spanish and International Studies (2015)
When I was little, I watched the Apollo 13 movie over and over again ꟷ surprised each time that duct tape saved the astronauts. Since then, I admittedly have not had much interaction with space… but when I was given the chance to tackle space law, I accepted because, really, who wouldn’t want to work for NASA? These past few weeks have been a major learning curve in space technology and NASA acronyms. Here, the day-to-day attorney work mostly revolves around what happens on Earth: administrative, procurement, and intellectual property law, among many other practice areas. Each day has been new adventure, and I’m excited to learn more about the federal government throughout the summer.
- Harvard Law School (Expected 2020)
- Washington University in St. Louis, B.A. in Political Science (2016)
On the very first day of law school, we were asked to envision our future. What was the coolest thing we could possibly imagine doing in our careers? My answer: to be the first lawyer in space. To me, space is the future, and I want to be at the forefront of helping shape and enforce the laws that make space exploration possible. This summer, I’ve gotten the chance to advance one step closer; by enhancing my knowledge of the law through fascinating administrative law projects, and by learning what it takes to actually go into space.
What does our week look like?
Our drive into Kennedy Space Center each morning takes us down the causeway, a thin grass strip cutting across the heart of the shimmering Indian River. Approaching KSC, the mockup of a red external fuel tank that looms above the Visitor Center’s Atlantis exhibit serves as a landmark, an immediate reminder to all who enter: we’re in space territory now. While at KSC, we’ve had the unbelievable opportunity to visit the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the tallest single-story building in the world; see the launch pads, crawler-transporter, and mobile launcher; and many of the center’s non-space wonders, such as the alligators, wild pigs, and native birds that call this nature preserve home.
Amid this incredible world of space vehicles and the people who bring inventions to life, we study the law. It may seem less glamorous, but it’s no less important. In the Chief Counsel’s office, we help research the laws that determine who works on these projects and how people interact; how we get all the supplies needed; who has “rights” to these newly developed inventions; and most importantly, how it’s all paid for. In other words, we look at laws in the realm of employment, ethics, intellectual property, procurement, and appropriations.
On any given Monday, you may find us researching an issue in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), trying to find the relevant clause. Or you may find us looking up cases – hours of modifying search terms and reading through opinions waiting for that exciting flash of recognition… a case that directly addresses our research question!
Tuesdays are for staff meetings! The entire Chief Counsel’s office gathers to discuss the week’s most important legal issues, both the big, ongoing concerns and the “small fires” – pressing issues the attorneys need to untangle to ensure everything runs smoothly.
On Wednesday mornings, we attend meetings with the Technology Transfer Office. The 1958 Space Act directs NASA to “provide for the widest practicable and appropriate dissemination of information concerning its activities and the results thereof.” In keeping with this directive to disseminate NASA inventions, Tech Transfer facilitates commercialization efforts for NASA Kennedy Space Center-developed technologies. The work often involves consultation with the intellectual property law team to review patentable technologies, licensure capabilities, and any concerns related to proprietary information.
One incredible opportunity we’ve had is to take tours of NASA facilities and labs. For instance, last Thursday we visited the Vegetable Production System lab, or “Veggie,” which allows for plant growth in space. NASA has been involved in the development of several crops – for example, lettuce was recently grown on the International Space Station (check this out to see the astronauts eat it!). As NASA plans for longer voyages, growing plants that can provide replenishment of nutrients vital to human health are high in demand. Peppers are a great space-crop candidate – they have nearly quadruple the amount of Vitamin-C as a glass of orange juice. We even got to try some! Additionally, growing plants in space also benefit the psychological health of astronauts far from home.
Okay, so *maybe* this doesn’t happen every week, but last Friday we watched a commercial resupply mission head to the International Space Station. Around 4:45 A.M., we unfolded our lawn chairs on the causeway, directly facing Space Launch Complex 40. At 5:42 A.M., the first glimmer of yellow light flashed on the horizon, and within minutes the only trace of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was a spectacular multi-colored vapor trail hovering above the horizon. The once-in-a-lifetime experience was a true testament to how lucky we are to be law interns in the heart of space research and exploration.